If buffet is your thing, you’ve probably already hit the popular standard all-you-can-eat (AYCE) joints around Asiatown by now: Little Sheep Mongolian for hot pot, Jin Korean BBQ for Korean barbecue, 75 BBQ and Hot Pot Buffet for Korean barbecue and hot pot, and Kim Son for their for Vietnamese lunch buffet. Well, now there’s a new place to try, and it’s vying for the position as the king of all-you-can-eat spots in the area.
Located on Bellaire and Boone in the Hong Kong Mall IV (in the former Tay Do location), Shabu Zone is a brand new shabu shabu concept by restauranteur Kenny Oh and partner James Takemoto. For those who aren’t familiar with shabu shabu, it’s a cook-at-the-table type of cuisine from Japan that is very similar to hot pot. Raw ingredients — usually vegetables, seafood, and thinly sliced meats, are dipped into boiling broth to cook. With hot pot, the flavor of the broth is very important, whereas with shabu shabu, the broth takes a backseat to the ingredients and the sauces.
Oh says that when you’re eating shabu shabu, you want buttery, melt-in-your-mouth meat, so he’s making sure that’s what you get with a slew of premium meat offerings. Of the ten meats on the menu, he’s paying top dollar for Certified Akaushi Wagyu from Heartbrand Beef, which he offers in three, all-you-can-eat cuts: chuck tender, beef round, and prime chuck eye. The seven other choices are also high grade, and include Angus top blade, ribeye, special prime rib, center cut pork loin, pork belly, chicken breast, and lamb. And that’s just the meats.
In the center of the restaurant, underneath an octagonal-shaped skylight, patrons will find a two-sided buffet bar filled to the brim with noodles, seafood and vegetables. Opening day selections included everything from udon and ramen to fresh, succulent prawns, blue crab, calamari, white fish, all manner of fish and seafood balls, several mushroom selections, and greens ranging from napa cabbage to baby bok choy.
Whole eggs were available, which you could take to your table and crack into your broth. Because the owners are Korean by descent, the kim chi, made in-house, is phenomenal.
With the exception of soy sauce and hot sauce, the condiments bar featured several house-made sauces — sesame sauce, sweet corn, wasabi coconut, sweet garlic, and ponzu — that you could mix and match to make your own perfect dipping sauce. I tried several individually, but ended up making my own sauce with a mixture of sesame, ponzu, and garlic sauce topped with green onions.
One of the key factors that differentiate Shabu Zone from other hot pot places around town is the use of individual induction burners, built into the tables, that enable each patron to have their own pot. The smaller, individual pots make the task of cooking so much easier — no need to fish overly cooked vegetables from the bottom of the pot. No need to wait for another person to cook their stuff before you drop yours in.
Because the pots are smaller, the cooking takes place quickly and the broth stays hot and bubbly until you turn down the heat. The one caveat to that is the individual pots only hold one broth all the time. This means that in order to try more than one of the seven broths (the options include dashi, spicy original, miso, tonkotsu, shoyu, vegetable and sukiyaki) during your meal, you’ll have to get a replacement pot with the new broth flavor. Shabu Zone charges $1 for each new broth you try.
As an invited guest of the restaurant, I tried the sukiyaki and the tonkotsu broths. My friend did the dashi flavor and opted not to switch. Stylistically, the broths are an interpreted version of Japanese, and somewhat mild in flavor.
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The restaurant itself is bright and clean, decorated in neutral tones. With booths and tables that seat parties of two, four, and six. There is a small bar counter for individual diners. There is a private room in the back for larger parties.
Shabu Zone’s introductory prices are $16.99 for lunch (limited meats) and $25.99 for dinner, all-you-can-eat. Children four to 10-years-old can eat for $10.99 at lunch and $14.99 for dinner, or share a pot with their parents $5.99 and $7.99, respectively. Vegetarians can also try Shabu Zone for $12.99 at lunch, and $18.99 at dinner. Prepare for wait times in excess of one hour during peak dining hours, especially on weekends.
Shabu Zone is located at 11201 Bellaire Boulevard, Unit 2, and is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Saturday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.